On Jan. 1, 2015 California started mandating training in Abusive Conduct for supervisors (in employers with 50 or more workers). The definition was lifted verbatim from the WBI Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) authored by Suffolk University Law Professor David Yamada.
WBI and its national network of volunteer State Coordinators has been lobbying for the complete HWB since 2001. Timid, business lobby-yoked state lawmakers are afraid to take a stand for workers who suffer health harm as the result of workplace bullying. Of course, the HWB does not include the phrase “workplace bullying.” The term used is “abusive conduct.”
California and Utah have mandated training. Utah’s 2015 legislation is superior to California’s, though it applies only to state agency employers. Utah requires that employers describe how they will provide protections to employees. California, at first, simply mandated the training. And the topic of abusive conduct, which is still legal until the full HWB is enacted into law in California, is to be added to mandated training on the employer’s commitment to the prevention and resolution of illegal sexual harassment. Oops. This is confusing to nearly everyone. Many HR types hardly understand the power of having protected group status membership or not.
We worry that employees will conflate bullying (abusive conduct) with illegal forms of harassment, including exposure to a hostile work environment. They will falsely believe that abusive conduct is currently illegal because of the pairing with illegal forms of discrimination that violate state and federal laws.
Now comes an April 1 amendment to California Fair Employment and Housing Act Regulations. The section below shows the intended clarification regarding the content of the Abusive Conduct related to Government Code section 12950.1(g)(2).
The good news: the deleterious impact on the targets of abusive conduct must be discussed. Naturally, the negatives for the employer are to be included.
The bad news: the regulation lifts most of our HWB definition of abusive conduct but omits the critical element describing that personal health harm can be manifested. And time devoted to abusive conduct training should be “meaningful.” Still vague.
Read the amended, clarifying regulation for yourself.
If you work for the State of Maryland, State Sen. Muse plans to convene a Task Force to study the extent and impact of workplace bullying and make recommendations. This is SB 689. It’s not a prohibitive law, but he clearly does care about bullying of State workers. In the past, he has been very sympathetic to bullied workers.
On Tuesday March 15 at 1 pm at the Capitol, the Senate Finance Committee will hear testimony on the bill.
State workers, take time off work to go testify. On the Maryland State Page, you can find the link to instructions to give testimony. The committee wants written statements prior to the scheduled hearing. Please read and follow the instructions.
Good luck on March 15!
On March 1, HB 1104, the same Task Force bill, was heard in the House Appropriations Committee. Union supporters included AFT, AFSCME and MPAC and one bullied MDOT former employee. You can view the video here on the State website. Testimony begins at time mark 4:09:40 and ends at 4:26:00.
WV State House Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, along with 8 co-sponsors introduced the Healthy and Safe Workplace Act (the Healthy Workplace Bill). West Virginia was the 9th state to ever introduce the HWB.
It is HB 4363.
Find all the details at the West Virginia State Page at this HWB website. Contact info for all sponsors and all four committee chairs is provided for West Virginians to thank and implore legislators to pass the bill.
Rhode Island Sen. Frank Ciccone, long-time labor advocate, introduced SB 2377 on Feb. 10, 2016. It is the Healthy Workplace Act of 2016, the full version of the WBI Healthy Workplace Bill. Four other state senators signed on as co-sponsors.
SB 2377 makes Rhode Island the 30th state (and 32nd legislature in America) to introduce our bill.
Now it’s on to the Senate Labor Committee where it awaits a public hearing.
In 2016, long-time advocate for Maryland state workers, Sen. Anthony Muse, introduced a bill to compel the state to study workplace bullying and its impact on those employees. SB 689 became a bill on Feb. 5, 2016. Sen. Muse’s bill was co-sponsored by five other Senators. If passed, the study of prevalence and impact within the state labor force by the Task Force is directed to be completed by the end of 2016.
House Delegate Patrick Young and 12 co-sponsors introduced the companion bill, HB 1104. The bill carries the exact wording.
ATTENTION WASHINGTON STATE RESIDENTS — ACT QUICKLY
Eleven Washington State House Representatives have sponsored the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (HB 2894). Another 11 state Senators of both parties are sponsoring the Senate companion bill (SB 6532). The HWB defines health-harming abusive conduct and makes it unlawful for employers to allow it to happen.
This marks the return of the legislation to Washington, absent since 2012. Washington was the 4th state to ever introduce the legislation.
Contact information for all bill sponsors and committee members can be found there. You can also volunteer to testify or help the State Coordinator get the bill through committees and floor votes in a very short legislative session. TIME IS VERY LIMITED!
• As Targets of bullying, shame paralyzes us and prevents us from defending ourselves.
• As members of Targets’ Families, we watch in horror as our loved ones’ lives unravel before our eyes.
• As Witnesses, fear of engagement, fear of threats to our own safety, prevent us from helping targets.
• As Managers, we lack the skills to stop it, confusing bullying with conflict, which we all abhor.
• As HR, we watch helplessly because laws do not compel policies that give us authority to act.
• As Union officers, we are too occupied with survival to see how much our members are suffering.
• As Owners/Executives, we wonder why some of the most admired managers are considered abusive.
• As State Lawmakers, we fear losing business lobby support, so we ignore the Healthy Workplace Bill.
Unrealistic fears, self-blame, rampant institutional indifference, and waiting for regulations are the excuses to not take positive prosocial action today to help those who are harmed by abusive conduct of others. How dare we turn our backs. Are we not moral human beings with empathy for the plight of oppressed peers?
So, just this one week of the year, let’s say “no” to all the rationalizations that sustain bullying in our workplaces. Open our eyes and see the harm caused.
Yes. Bullying costs employers. But bullying carries a tremendous human cost in terms of preventable stress-related injuries to the most capable workers among us.
After being reported favorably out of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill has been moved to a procedural stage called “Third Reading,” which means it is now eligible for a full vote by the House of Representatives. As reported by Deb Falzoi on the Facebook page of the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates:
BREAKING NEWS: The Healthy Workplace Bill, HB 1771, has been ordered to a Third Reading in the House. This step is the furthest point the bill has gone in Massachusetts in previous sessions, but this session we’ve reached it much earlier in the session. Progress!
Without a doubt this is good news and increases the likelihood for a favorable result during the 2015-16 Massachusetts legislative session.
MA Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee recommends support of Healthy Workplace Bill
The Massachusetts Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee, an office appointed by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court “to enhance and protect the rights of persons with mental health concerns in key areas most closely related to their ability to live full and independent lives free of discrimination,” has submitted written testimony in support of the Healthy Workplace Bill. MHLAC senior attorney Susan Fendell, stated in her testimony that “(t)his bill, if passed into law, will profoundly improve people’s daily lives by creating positive and consequently more productive work environments.”
Attorney Fendell’s testimony shared the story of a client with a learning disability who was subjected to severe physical and verbal abuse by a new supervisor. The client filed a disability discrimination claim, but because he was not able to show that the mistreatment was grounded in his disability, he did not prevail. MHLAC offered this story as an example of the gap that needs to be filled by the Healthy Workplace Bill.
MHLAC’s welcomed statement of support highlights the potential power of the Healthy Workplace Bill to safeguard the mental health of all citizens.
Workplace bullying is endemic in healthcare and education, including higher education, for reasons discussed elsewhere at the WBI website.
Now comes a story of an inept community college administration, at Weatherford College, unwilling to even consider complaints from a long-time faculty member. Professor Karen Lopez Austen about the abusive conduct she faced in the Athletics Department.
So, as was her right, Dr. Austen filed a civil suit claiming sex and ethnicity discrimination along with retaliation for daring to hold the college accountable to operate lawfully and according to internal policies. She probably, like most bullied targets, especially highly educated individuals, expected to find justice in court. We constantly warn targets that justice is rarely found and almost never in court.
Remember, the college administrators refused to hear her complaint. The trial court judge did not allow Dr. Austen her day in court. Judges possess ultimate authority to grant access to their courts.
Judges have two avenues to end cases before they start — dismissal or summary judgement. Targets are typically plaintiffs who sue their employers, the defense. The defense files the motion to dismiss. Dismissal is based on technical details of the case that have not been addressed ensuring that the law cannot relieve the problem — e.g., “including lack of subject matter jurisdiction, lack of personal jurisdiction, improper venue, insufficiency of process, insufficiency of service of process, failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or failure to join a necessary party.”
When the defense files a motion for summary judgement, it is saying that if the parties don’t dispute the material facts of the case, then the judge can determine whether the defendant is liable based simply on the pre-trial evidence assembled, if any exists. In the case Austen v. Weatherford College, there was no such agreement. The civil case was all about the disputed facts. The college said nothing happened. Dr. Austen said otherwise. Guess what. The judge in Federal District Court agreed with the college and threw out the case based on summary judgement.
In most cases, financially strapped terminated and unemployed targets go no further. But Dr. Austen filed an appeal with the federal Fifth Circuit. It was no surprise that the Appellate Court upheld (agreed with) the pro-administration ruling of summary judgement. Remember, no entity had yet considered the evidence that plaintiff Austen had put together to prove her complaint of discrimination.
Austen’s attorney, Mark Robinett, at the Austin Texas firm of Brim, Arnett & Robinett. P.C., was shocked by the 5th Circuit Court’s ruling. What he found appalling was that his client’s evidence did not matter. In a general letter to the public, attorney Robinett wrote:
… the Court of Appeals held that her evidence did not matter, that she had failed to present a “prima facie” case or “rebut the legitimate reasons for termination (sic nonrenewal) offered by the college. The court also holds, as if it has some basis for making a fact finding (which is a “no-no” for an appellate court) that “(t)he six serious, documented instances of misconduct from the semester after the settlement agreement were the primary reasons for termination (sic nonrenewal).
Robinett, quoting the appellate court’s ruling stated
What matters is not the truth of the underlying complaints and reports, however, but rather whether the college could legitimately have relied on them in deciding to terminate Austen. The college could do so.
In fact, the college president, Eaton, mis-characterized Dr. Austen’s complaint to the Board. The Board never heard Austen’s perspective.
The injustices Austen faced was compounded by the 5th Circuit with its pro-institutional bias that claimed evidence did not matter. Robinett concluded that the court was doing a trial jury’s job without the benefit of live testimony or assessing the credibility of the Weatherford College administrators.
Read Attorney Robinett’s letter countering the assertion that Dr. Austen was not renewed for just reasons. She never got to tell her side of the story to an impartial court.
This is the official home of the national grassroots legislative movement to enact the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill. The HWB is the boldest proposed change to U.S. employment law in 40 years. We are a volunteer network of citizen activists working since 2002 in many states to pass the bill into law.
Current discrimination and harassment laws rarely address bullying concerns. Bullying is four times more prevalent than illegal discrimination, but is still legal in the U.S. People deserve more protection against arbitrary cruelty that has nothing to do with work.
"Sometimes I wonder if we shall ever grow up in our politics and say definite things which mean something, or whether we shall always go on using generalities to which everyone can subscribe, and which mean very little." -- Eleanor Roosevelt